30 Portraits in 30 Days

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In May, I did a personal project where I took portraits of 30 people and posted 1 per day on social media for 30 days. Each photo included a quote from a piece of the person’s story. I’ve now consolidated the photos into one place here on my blog. Please enjoy . . .

A few years ago, I spent the month of May handwriting 30 letters and sending them to 30 people. I hand-wrote all of the things I loved and admired about the person, I addressed it to their full formal legal name, I put a stamp on it, and I sent the letter through the real mail. “30 Love Letters in 30 Days” eventually became a chapter in my first book. Inspired by that experience, I’ve been working on a project I’m calling “30 Portraits in 30 Days.” I’ve spent the last month sitting with 30 people, taking their portraits, and listening to their stories. It’s been insightful, emotional, and has pushed me personally and creatively. It has brought people into my home where we’ve sat together on my couch and I listened while they told me their stories — some light, some hard, some surprising, some humorous. This project has brought together my love of real-life people connection, storytelling, and photography. Starting tomorrow, May 1, I’ll be sharing 1 portrait per day for the next 30 days along with a small piece of that person’s story. Each photo will be in black and white to reflect the raw nature behind this whole experience — for them and for me.

*****
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 1 —
“I give a card to every member of the church on their birthdays and anniversaries. Sometimes I give 15 cards a month and I put them in the mailboxes at church. One lady told me she always looks forward to my card. It’s the only card she receives.”
-Janice Louise Deeter, 85
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 2 —
“I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 2 years old. One thing I wish people knew about type 1 diabetes is I have no control over getting type 1 and it impacts every minute of my life. The hardest part about diabetes is it’s an invisible disease, no one sees or realizes how much work and planning it takes to be able to live a “normal” life. If I were talking to a high school student with type 1 diabetes who is nervous to go away for college, I’d tell them to take the chance and follow their dream. College has been the best years of my life so far. You will find friends that will be there for you and will try to understand your diabetes. You may even find a friend that will help you create an app for diabetes like I did! Diabetes has taught me that I am stronger than I think!”
-Sydney Maelee Ignet, 20
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 3 —
“It was the fall of 2018 when I first started to contemplate the notion of extensive travel and volunteerism through a leave of absence at my job. This journey and (best) decision (ever) began with my best friend and I wanting to take a big trip for our 30th birthdays. I had pretty low expectations of my HR partners being able to allow my 5-month proposed journey, but I was prepared to take a leap of faith regardless. We packed our 65 liter Osprey backpacks with our very practical and favorite items. They weighed about 25 pounds when we left. Our country list included France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Hungary, Romania, Nepal, Thailand, and South Korea. We intertwine our careers and what we do for a living so closely with our daily purpose, when you strip that away from someone (even though temporary), how do you identify yourself? What do you use to describe yourself when you first are introduced? The time to actually evaluate your true purpose is not something we always take the time to do in our crazy busy lives. We need a reason to get up. We need to sometimes know what is next. We need to set up our day to ensure we can accomplish goals and have a sense of belonging and drive towards our purpose.”
-Elizabeth Anne Craig, 31
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 4 —
“I drove a truck for 32 years. I started with Hostess Cake. Then I went to Little Debbie. Then I went back to Hostess for my retirement, which was by that time Dolly Madison. You had to get out of your truck and put the products on the rack and smile even though you didn’t feel like it, and go to the next stop and do the same thing. The hardest thing was getting up at 2:30 in the morning and getting home at 6:00. If I were 18 and had to do it all over again, I’d somehow found a way to stay with baseball either as a coach or a player. I played with A-league and Bluegrass Mountain League. I played third base. The Cardinals come down and talk to Virgil Turner and I once about going to try-out camp, but I found out I had a son on the way.”
-James Thompson Ginter, 76
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 5 —
“The very first thought was just complete shock. We were having our first ultrasound and the tech says, “Here’s Baby A…” My mouth fell open and I’m staring at the first glimpse of our twins on the monitor, trying to really absorb what she’s telling us. I’m reaching for my husband to make sure he is ok (he’s holding our oldest, who is only 7 months old at the time) and to grab him in some way as we get this news. I don’t think either of us said anything for a few minutes because we were just in total shock. The one thing I hear all the time is “I don’t know how you do it.” Well, I don’t really have a choice, I have to do it. Yes, I could work and the kids could go to daycare, but I wanted to be home with them and this is what works best for our family. The downside of that is I’m “Mom” all the time, no breaks and home the majority of the time. I can honestly say, this is one of the most difficult and most rewarding things I’ve ever done. The struggle is real! My struggles are different from everyone else’s, but no one really wants to talk about them or share them. Why? I’m not sure. We don’t want to show a ‘weakness’ or that we don’t know what we’re doing? I don’t really know when it started, but for as long as I can remember, I wanted to have a family and be a Mom. I wanted to be able to grow a baby and feel them move, watch them grow, travel and create memories, and love on them with all I have. It was my biggest fear that I wouldn’t be able to do that, and I’m so grateful I was able to experience it. I don’t know how to put it into words and describe how much those experiences meant to me.”
-Carrie Lynn Ruck, 39
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 6 —
“The bravest thing I’ve ever done is have 2 surgeries on my head in a hospital. I learned from my injury that God can do miracles through random people. I think God chose me because He had plans for me and also to help save others. When I grow up I want to be an inventor and an architect.”
-Coby Raymond Frabott, 9
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 7 —
“My husband and I decided it was time to get healthy, so over the past year we have completely overhauled our “diet” and have made an effort to move more. I was motivated by my desire to experience life to the fullest and not be afraid to try new things for fear my weight and physical abilities would hold me back. The hardest part has been not using food as an emotional crutch. I would use food to help me deal with life whether I was stressed, sad, or even happy. If I was going to share anything with someone that is in the same place that I was before all of this, I’d tell them to not compare their results to others and to surround themselves with supportive people. I used to mentally compete with the person next to me on the treadmill instead of being excited by the fact that I was on the treadmill working my plan. I feel grateful for the love and support we have received from our family and friends during our journey. I’m going to complete a 109-mile bike trail ride with my husband in South Dakota this summer. I am also training for my very first marathon.”
–Margie Estelle Rains, 42
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 8 —
“If I could be anything, I’d be the person I’ve always wanted to be – a person that’s redeemed, a person that’s actually sober, a person that is present. A person with an actual future. I’m 12-months sober on May 8.”
-Brittany Lyn Ginter, 30
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 9 —
“I got my first kidney transplant at age 30 in 1989 and unfortunately it did not last long. In 1991, at the age of 32, I was lucky enough to receive a second transplant. With a lot of help from God and my family, I have been able to live a good life since then. God loves organ donors and so do I!”
-Dennis Richard Ignet, 59
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 10 —
“I’ve been teaching for 27 years. The first 7 years I taught 4th grade and then 20 years in 5th grade. I strive to have a positive attitude and smile every day and to make each child feel loved. At the end of each school year, if I could have the students walk away learning just one thing, I hope it’s to always be kind to others. Grades are important, but I feel that there are so many other things that are important to teach in elementary school. I hope I leave a lasting impression on each child, each year, so when they look back on their 5th grade year they’ll have positive memories. We unexpectedly received an awesome letter from parents recently and I love the quote they ended the letter with, “Teachers are probably the most underrated yet the most powerful professionals in the whole world. Their work has a long term impact on not just the lives of the children they teach, but on society as a whole. They have the power to shape generations, impact minds and make the world a better place.””
-Kimberly Lee Ignet, 49
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 11 —
“We met in July of 91 and we married in July of 98, so we are in our 21st year. He is loyal, he appreciates me, he is super sweet, he always can make me laugh, and he’s easy on the eyes too. I think the secret to a happy marriage is having hobbies we can both share and giving each other space when we need it. We’re most proud of our kids’ work ethics — it has made them such successful adults. I’m the happiest when my kids and grandkids are smiling and visiting.”
-Joy Melinda Hocker, 59
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 12 —
“I always say that the one thing I have done right in my life is being a mom. It didn’t matter that I was 16 when I had her. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t afford a fancy diaper bag to carry. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have baby monitors or all of the latest gadgets. What mattered was simply love and all that it entails. I raised an amazing daughter with whom I share a bond stronger than anything I could have ever imagined all those years ago. I’m lucky enough to share that same bond with my mother, as she did with her mother. I come from a long line of amazing moms – each who were teenagers when they had their children. Life doesn’t end for teen moms, it simply gets rearranged. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there!”
-Lisa Ginter Lovely, 53
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 13 —
“Of course there are a lot of things that are hard about adoption. The waiting. The heartache when it doesn’t work out. The heartache for the birthmom. The worry. But those things are temporary and short-sighted. Raising a precious kid; being lucky enough to raise a precious kid . . . all that well outweighs what’s hard. Every so often I get the question “did you love him right away?” I think this is one of those extremes that people play out, using TV commercials as the backdrop against which you trump up these moments and feel like you can never live up to. I don’t know how I felt right away. It was completely surreal. It was also surreal when I had my first biological kid and she looked back at me and I thought “what the heck do I do with this?” When I first met Lincoln, I was still guarding my heart, in case things didn’t work the way I’d hoped. It’s really not a matter of loving an adopted child right away. It’s about two hundred and eighty nine billion more moments that matter. And trust me . . . those moments are full of love. Forget the light switch moments, because they aren’t real. Lean in to the lifetime of moments, with your own life and love as the backdrop. What I hope for my adopted son is . . . When I first answered this question in my mind, I answered “that he doesn’t feel like my adopted son.” Now, knowing that he needs to feel connected to his own DNA and be/feel as black as he wants to be, and that he is different, I shy away from saying that. But in all reality, I hope he feels like my son, regardless of how he got here. What I hope for my adopted son’s birth parents is that they feel at peace with their decision. That they feel confident in the love that we shower on this kid and that they aren’t forgotten or taken for granted.”
-Shannon Leigh Rosenberg, 35
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 14 —
“Cheese”
-Lincoln Michael Rosenberg, almost 2

(See yesterday’s post for a photo of Lincoln’s mother and their story of adoption)
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 15 —
“If I were to talk to someone who wants to come out but is too afraid, I’d tell them that coming out sucks. And only they can determine when they’re actually “out.” For some, coming out means coming out to their parents or families; others have to come out to friends or a sorority; others may have to come out to their congregation. None of it is easy, and none of it is without stress and anxiety. And coming out is an ongoing process. That new coworker? Yeah, you’ll have to come out to him. Your new doctor? Yep, better let her know. The florist down the street? Sure thing–they’re gonna know you’re gay! Coming out means something different to everyone, and only each person can decide when they’re officially out. The one common theme among all people coming out is this invisible division in their lives before breaching the closet and after it. One of the most prolific conversations that happens on every LGBTQ+ first dates is about coming out . . . you often have to get personal really fast. I’ve been feeling really guilty about my life recently . . . I just turned 30, I have this amazing career, and I’m in love with my dream man. We make a tidy living and have an awesome little dog (with another one on the way!). My commute into work is a three minute walk to the office. My family has an ongoing text all day, every day where we share memes, random events, and challenges. It’s an understatement to say I’m blessed, and, when I think about how truly amazing my life is, I get emotional. I try to keep the details of my life out of normal conversation, but it’s really hard sometimes because I’m internally bursting at the seams with happiness!!”
-Timothy Michael Kasper, 30
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 16 —
“We were traveling recently and a colleague of mine was on the same flight. He must’ve seen Brooke and I interacting with each other while we were waiting in the airport. When we boarded the flight he walked past us and asked Brooke if I ever stop smiling. This caused me to pause and think about how much she makes me smile and laugh and how life is so much happier with her by my side. Simple comments like this often mean more to someone than you would expect.”
-Christopher Scott Hocker, 36
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 17 —
“I started working at Hocker Tool & Die my senior year on weekends and holidays. It’s been about 47 years now. In my early years working under and with my Grand-Pa (we called him “Baldy”) was a joy every day. I still use some of his tools. Advice I’d give someone looking to start their own company is to surround yourself with good people interested in the same field. It makes it easier and more enjoyable. Be diversified and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. We are in automotive, printing, aerospace, research and development – a basic job shop.”
-Ronald Scott Hocker, 64
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 18 —
“When I turn 7, I’ll get to do more things! And I’ll lose more teeth.”
-Gianna Reese Frabott, 7
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 19 —
“If I could be anything, I would like to be the CEO of a major automobile company, then become President of the United States. As my retirement job, I would like to be the President of The Ohio State University.”
-Joseph Andrew DiFrancesco, 26
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 20 —
“One thing I wish people knew is that I have a desire to spread the word of Jesus more than I do. I have a lot of love for Jesus in my heart and I wish I could spread it more.”
-Sarah Beth Snow, 37
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 21 —
“Since I was probably 16 years old, I had a vision for my life. The degree, the career, the marriage, the house, the dog, the kids. I am a planner and go-getter, and eventually, I checked off all of the boxes. Life was GOOD, but no sooner did my life feel complete than it started to completely fall apart. Seemingly overnight, alcoholism and addiction overturned every inch of my plan, and I quickly found myself raising three young kids alone, moving across the state, starting a new job, and starting over. None of it was ever part of the plan, and yet here I was. The grief was great and the loss of control was terrifying. However, little by little I began to find gifts in this new “off the plan” path. People, opportunities, and incredible blessings we never would have encountered had our lives not been turned upside down. I’ve experienced so much growth and so many good things over the last year that if given the option, I don’t know if I’d even stick to my original plan. I’ve officially embraced the magic of the unknown and the blessings in navigating uncharted territory, trusting God has a better path for me than I could even plan for myself. Believe it or not, what helped me get through the darkest days was a vision of a kitchen sink. I pictured us safe and at peace in our own house, with me doing dishes at the kitchen sink while looking out the window as the kids laughed and played nearby. It was all I wanted and I knew I had to get us to that place. I clung to that vision while he was drinking and I was pleading . . . While he was MIA and I was mothering . . . While he was sobering up and I was crying . . . While he was partying and I was packing . . . While he was draining our savings and I was interviewing for jobs . . . While he sunk into the darkness of addiction and I prayed unceasingly for light. . . . While he was destroying our life and I was working so incredibly hard to rebuild a new one . . . Eventually, on October 4, 2018 the vision became a reality. I got the keys to my new house and along with it peace, safety, and the mundane but precious gift of washing dishes at the kitchen sink with my three young boys playing happily at my feet.”
-Sara Michelle Bing, 36
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 22 —
“When I grow up I want to be a doctor and a photographer and I’m going to get a camera like yours and then take pictures of all the sick people I help and hang their pictures up in the lobby and I’ll be like ‘see, they’re not sick anymore.’ How much was your camera? I bet it was expensive. Where did you get it? Can I pose like this for the next picture and then can I see it? Can I take your picture after this? I promise I’ll be careful.”
-Lilah Grace Harvey, 9
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 23 —
“Something people don’t know about me is I hate change. I thrive off of planning and love predictability. Perhaps my biggest challenge so far in life has been learning the skill of adaptability.”
-Chelsea Marie Burbridge, 24
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 24 —
“I became a musician because I wanted to share my love of the arts with others. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to play both the 2nd flute and piccolo parts for a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Esterhazy Winter Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria. The next day while walking through town an elderly gentleman approached me on the street pointing to me, the palace and then me again asking, “kleine flote?” (In other words, did you play piccolo in last night’s concert?) I said “yes” and he embraced me in a huge hug. I played Beethoven 9 with Springfield Symphony on May 18th, and I kept thinking about that sweet little exchange between two strangers separated by language, nationality, gender, age, brought together for a brief moment through music.”
-Dr. Angela Renee Heck Mueller, 37
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 25 —
“As a child, teen, and young adult, my struggles with fear and anxiety held me back from too many opportunities to count. I let it run my life and my decisions. I let it speak lies through others. I nearly let it ruin me. When I became a mom, one of my biggest fears was passing this onto my children. As I began praying for them to “just not have it like I did” God began answering in a less expected way. He put my fears in my face. It took me a few years to realize what was even happening. As I was focusing on their confidence, he was calling me to be the example and testimony to teach them from. He began putting people and situations in my life where I had to face and overcome all the things I avoided before I truly knew myself. I still wrestled through lies, negative-minded people, and doubt yet somehow it was all laced with peace this time around. God wanted to show me who I truly was and all that I was capable of all along. He called me out of my comfort zone and into my mission. He called me to new ways to love, serve and reach others with His joy. He absolutely blind-sided me to turning my absolute gut-wrenching biggest fear into my passion. I still can’t believe what He has done in my life. Which excites me on what’s yet to come! And most importantly, how much better I will help guide my children through any fears they may face. If you step in faith, he will place the rock under your foot. Again and again.”
-Jennifer Yost Barksdale, 37
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 26 —
“When you are 85 years old, there are just too many favorite memories to name just one. I love being a mom and grandmother. Probably because God gave me the very best kids and grandkids he had. Isn’t He great?! There have been some really hard times for the kids and I, but we made it! And you couldn’t find 4 more amazing adults anywhere ever than they are . . . anywhere ever, ever.”
-Dona Mae Ignet, 85
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 27 —
“I joined the service because it felt like a family tradition, there was never any question that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my parents. I have deployed to the Middle East, most recently 2010-2011 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom. Our mission was transportation of equipment throughout Iraq. One thing I wish people knew about service men and women is that we don’t see ourselves as heroes, we’re just ordinary people doing what we feel is right. It’s a calling for sure. For me, it’s not about being brave; it’s instinct, and you act on it, there’s no questioning. If you are joining the service simply to get college paid for, don’t do it. You are signing a contract and making a commitment that you can’t go back on. It’s a life defining decision. We are in a time of unrest and uncertainty, and you may have to deploy. Ask yourself, ‘do you have the aptitude to react quickly to high stress situations and support your battles through traumatic events?’ It’s made me stronger than I could have ever imagined, I’m proud to say that I served my country and had the opportunity to stand beside some amazing people.”
-SSG Anna Christina Brown-Grant, 47
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 28 —
“The most important thing to me is my faith and family. I see my shortcomings every day and having a God who forgives me and loves me in spite of those is the greatest gift. Being a Christian does not mean I’m perfect, it’s the exact opposite, and means I’m able to have a relationship with a God that loves me so much that He took the punishment for my sins upon Himself. A life lesson I’m always working on is to live with an attitude of gratefulness. It’s so much harder to complain when you live in a state of thankfulness. A work in progress for me.”
-Adriane Blair Weidner, 37
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 29 —
“I was the first born of 7 kids. I think being the first born caused me to grow up at an early age and take responsibility. It also taught me to love unconditionally — there’s where I learned a lot of that type of thing. Life skills . . . learning how to share, how to forgive, how to be patient, all those kinds of things. There was always a new baby it seemed so I had lots of responsibilities with the children, always. I had to be the second mom a lot. The first thing I did to make money was daycare. I ran a daycare when Bryan and Lisa were old enough to go to school. I wanted to be there for them after school. I bought a house right by the school so I could see them from the door going to and from school. Then I did sales for several years then circled back around and started taking care of kids again. It’s been children all my life, that’s been my focus. Adult children or little children are my life. I’m most proud of my children. I think most mothers would say that. I have two wonderful children, no mother could ask for more.”
-Linda Carol Aldridge, 70
30 PORTRAITS IN 30 DAYS: Day 30 —
“Always outwork everyone. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. My daughter saved the best for last.”
-Douglas Hoke Ignet, 56

*****
Instead of resolutions or specific goals this year, I decided to be one of those people that picked a word of the year and let that influence what I’d do with opportunities or creative ideas that came to mind. I picked the word “audacious.” It means “to show a willingness to take surprisingly bold risks.” I didn’t really know how that would present itself, and still don’t know for the second half of the year — but I decided that when I had a dream or idea for something that would normally end in thoughts like “I’m not qualified to do that” or “who do I think I am trying to do that?” or “people might think I’m dumb if I share this idea” then I would just simply have the audacity to do it instead. So, I asked 30 people if I could take their photos. I asked people I didn’t know that well to drive over to my house. I asked them to feel super uncomfortable and look directly into my camera lens. And then I asked them about their lives while I took notes or audio recorded them. And when conversation felt emotionally uncomfortable, I stayed in it and asked follow up questions. Sometimes I’d cry a little after they left. I used the mantra of “audacious” to push me to share a story every day even when in the background it made me feel uncomfortable, or I saw areas in my photography that could improve, or I thought a story may polarize people’s opinions. Stories of addiction, marriage, chronic illness, bravery, adoption, motherhood, coming out, lost dreams, God, organ transplants, travel, etc. And it was all worth it. Sincere thanks to the 30 people who let me share a piece of your story with the Internet. It fulfills me and gives me a sense of purpose far greater than I can communicate.
-Brooke Nichole Ignet Hocker, 37